Journal Day 10

 

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Our Hotel in Pipa, the Recanto De Sophie.

Minha Namorada (My Girlfriend) and I had finally arrived in Praia de Pipa. This city had one of the largest nightlife I have seen in Brazil – the streets actually are probably the quietest betwen 7-10 p.m., as everyone is inside getting food before they go out for the night. The street fills with giant crowds and become one large party every night. Given the relaxed drinking rules in Brazil, they don’t mind if you buy a beer from one bar, but then go wandering with the drink in hand (making sure to pay first). This is where I encountered the most amount of tourists during all of the my times to Brazil – our neighbors in the adjoining chalet were British, I overheard German a few times, and it was not out of place to overhear people speaking English in any bar. I really liked the city because it still felt like authentic Brazil, but my Portuguese was not what it is now (although I’m still far from fluent), so I did enjoy the tourist-nature of the city, so that menus were available in English, with most servers understanding me.

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Pipa is gorgeous, with pure white sand beaches, and gorgeous red sand beaches adjoining each other. There is a big cliff face to get down to the beaches though, with natural stairs built into the hillsides, so you need to be careful when walking – bars are mostly located on the beach (of course), but that means you eventually have to ascend the cliff at the end of the day when you might be slightly inebriated. This also means you should bring everything you need with you for the beach, as you probably won’t want to walk up and down those stairs just to grab your Sunscreen or a bottle of water.

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Red cliffs just outside of Pipa Beach

Minha Namorada and I spent the day at the beach, and then went to this beautiful bar that is only open in the evening to watch the sunset – Mirante Sunset Bar. There is a small cover charge to just be there, and the food is nothing to write home about, but the view is absolutely stunning. I took some pictures, but even they don’t do it justice. I highly recommend you visit to see for yourself. The bar doesn’t let too many people in, so that everyone can enjoy their time there, so I’d recommend getting there right as it opens, but every seat is designed to allow you to take in the breathtaking view.

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It rained briefly while we were there, but luckily the rain never tends to stay for long (it tends to be short, intense bursts), and even then the sun still shines while its raining. Sun Showers are actually my favourite type of weather – rain doesn’t really bother me when its 25 and I can still feel sun on the back of my neck.

Journal Entry Day 5

On my next day in Brazil, Minha Namorada (my girlfriend) and I went to a bunch of tourist locations.

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Saint Francis Church and Saint Anthony Convent
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Cabo Branco lighthouse next to the Ponta do Seixas

Now, Tourists in Brazil are generally not American, or English speaking. I only met one group of English-speaking people the entire time I was in Brazil, and it was on this day. They overheard Minha Namorada and I speaking, so came over to talk, and upon noticing my hat (at that time, a Toronto Blue Jays baseball cap) they recognized that I must be Canadian (I guess there aren’t that many American fans of Canadian teams). I assume they had the same experience with few English-speakers, otherwise they wouldn’t have struck up a conversation.

In fact, most of the tourists that I saw were from Argentina, which makes sense, as it is a very large Spanish speaking country that borders Brazil. I also found out that day just how similar Portuguese and Spanish are, as Minha Namorada gave directions and spoke briefly with some Argentinians who were lost, and later explained to me that she just spoke Portuguese to them, and they spoke Spanish, and they understood each other. I had previously believed that they were similar in the way that German and English are similar – singular words can often be understood in context, but I didn’t realize they were fairly mutually intelligible. In fact, since then, Minha Namorada has even watched an entire Columbian telenovela (soap opera) in Spanish without any difficulty, so clearly the languages are much more similar than I ever realized.

The architecture of downtown João Pessoa was very fascinating, which I only understood later when I remembered the fact that Northeastern Brazil used to be a dutch colony – which is very much reflected in the buildings. This is a very important part of the culture in Northeastern Brazil, with many Dutch Brazilians and the war helping to shape the country. Much like Canada was shaped by the battles between France and Britain, Brazil was shaped by the old world empires as well.

You can really see the dutch influences in parts of downtown, like Antenor Navarro Square:

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Zelma Brito [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D
We also went to some cultural parks, and a science centre, but they were sadly all closed. It meant we got to walk around for free and see the large permanent exhibits that aren’t removed regularly, but I would have rather seen the full sites.

One important thing I realized though, is even if you are walking on sidewalks in Brazil, you need to wear bug repellent. I got bit by an ant in Brazil, and it actually made me stop walking it hurt so much. It felt like a painful cramp all of a sudden in my leg, and I had to ask Minha Namorada if we could cut the tour short and head back to the car… luckily, it only hurt for about 15-30 minutes, but I’ve never had an ant bite hurt that much before.

 

Recife

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Sandro Helmann [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
I will freely admit that I did not get a good first impression of Recife. My first time in Brazil I flew into Recife, but the airport, and highways out of town (we were staying in João Pessoa, 1.5 hours away), are near some favelas that are not nice. In addition, I had just flown for over 24 hours (including the layovers). I felt a bit uneasy about Recife, and Minha Noiva (My Fiancée) even apologized for the part of Recife we were in, and told me not to judge Brazil by that area. To be clear, it is not all of Recife, just the area by the airport and the highway out of town that was a little bit rundown. There is also a bit of a city rivalry between João Pessoa and Recife (think Toronto-Ottawa, Calgary-Edmonton, or Montreal-Toronto), and with Minha Noiva’s family living in João Pessoa, I have to be loyal to her city. My trips to Recife have always had a specific reason, rather than simply enjoying what Recife has to offer. My next trip will involve a lengthy stay to see the sights in Recife, and I’m hoping to change my opinion of the City.

That being said, Recife is actually a very well-known city in the Northeast of Brazil, being one of the three biggest locations for Carnival in Brazil (the other two being Rio de Janeiro and Salvador). Despite Carnival not starting until February, events begin in Recife in November or December, and even that early tourists start to arrive.

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A bloco party on the streets of Recife Raul [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
They regularly have indoor-outdoor block parties you can attend (called blocos) and random live shows either outside, or inside bars – remember though, like many cities in Brazil, if you are in a bar and a band starts playing, you may be expected to pay something towards their compensation. It is worth it as Brazilian Music is wonderful, but just be aware.

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A frevo dance and music performance Prefeitura de Olinda [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
As a major tourist destination, there are lots of English on signs and in malls – one of the most unusual sights I saw was a Ben & Jerry’s, where all the signs were in English, except for the actual names of the Ice Cream, which were still made up of English puns.

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Praia de Muro Alto Cleferson Comarela [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons
Recife is named after the reefs just off its coast, so you can imagine that it has some beautiful beaches. However, you need to be careful in the water there, as the reefs are not coral reefs, and so the beaches do not have the same protection from sharks that other beaches along the Brazilian coast have. Attacks, while still rare, are more common on the beaches here than in other locations. In fact, surfing has been banned on the beaches of Recife specifically because of the risk of shark attacks, and swimmers are specifically warned by many beach signs to avoid swimming beyond the reefs. Personally, I stay on the dry land.

Journal Entry Day 4

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Oddly, this was basically my first “beach day” in Brazil. This is because I wasn’t looking for a generic beach holiday. If you are looking to do a generic beach holiday, while Brazil is lovely, I’m not sure if it will be what you are seeking. Generally speaking, there are lots of all-inclusive destinations where you can find a hot beach to relax, enjoy good food, and free alcohol. Those can be a lot of fun, but I don’t find you really experience the cultures of the places you visit. Especially for me though, I was there to meet the family of Minha Namorada (My Girlfriend) and experience her culture. I wanted to see where she grew up, and learn more about her.

That said, the beaches in Brazil are lovely. You do have to be a bit careful as to which beaches you choose, as the water CAN have dangerous animals (read: sharks), but generally the beaches in João Pessoa are protected by Reefs that keep out the sharks and it is generally easy to tell the beaches apart – are there a lot of people swimming there? Then you don’t need to worry.

However, when going to the beaches in Brazil, I cannot overemphasize the importance of sunblock. You do not want your trip ruined by a bad burn. Minha Namorada actually bought me a UV shirt that was designed for swimming – don’t worry, lots of Brazilians wear these shirts too. As I’ve written about before, Brazilians are very smart about how to dress for the Sun.

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In the evening, Minha Namorada and I went to Praia do Jacaré (Alligator Beach), before heading out for supper. I got a very wonderful shirt that gives Inglês to Nordestinês (English to Northeasterner). While much of the humor on the shirt is still lost to me (given my rudimentary, but improving understanding of Portuguese), I still like the shirt, and it allowed me to understand how Nordestinês are viewed in Brazil. They are the equivalent of our Newfoundlanders (its easy to imagine an English-Newfie T-Shirt). This has only become more cemented in my mind as I learn more about Brazil, reading articles that mention Nordestinês in the way that I find much of Canada speaks of Newfoundlanders . To be clear, I am not suggesting it is a derogatory way of speaking (nor is it in Canada when speaking of Newfoundlanders ), it is simply an area with a different way of life, and a unique culture. That same niche that is occupied by Newfoundlanders in Canada, is occupied by Nordestinês in Brazil.

English Northeasterner Translation

After the beautiful sunset, Minha Namorada and I went to a bar because she insisted that I try a Caipirinha. This is a very popular drink in Brazil, and it is a must-have for any gringo visiting. Caipirinha is made with a unique Brazilian spirit called cachaça. Mexico has tequila, Cuba has rum, Brazil has cachaça. A Caipirinha is very easy to make, and involves just adding cachaça, ice, and the fruit of your choice (limes or lemons are the most common). Its a hard taste to describe, but well worth seeking out. You CAN get cachaça in Canada, but it is expensive here, and generally it is the low quality version.

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Caipirinha

Journal Entry Day 3

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This day I learned an important lesson about indulging myself. Treating yourself while on vacation is something we all do (a vacation is an indulgence in and of itself), and  Brazil is a great place to indulge as you get a lot more bang for your buck.

Now, you can easily find hotels in Brazil where the experience will be very similar to a Canadian Hotel. They have Holiday Inn, and other brand name hotels just like anywhere else – and if you are just looking for somewhere to rest your head at the end of the day, that’s fine.

However, if you look at little bit, you can easily find an unforgettable place where you still won’t break the bank. Minha Namorada (My girlfriend) and I found this wonderful place called the Oasis Tajaja owned by a very friendly Italian woman, where our room was in its own building, and we shared the large pool with up to eight other guests (we actually only had one other guest when we stayed in the hotel).

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Having such a wonderful place made the evenings a wonder to themselves, and the private pool allowed us to relax after our long days of exploring.

This is also important because, despite the recent droughts, João Pessoa is still a coastal city, so gets a lot of rain – sometimes the sun stays shining while it rains (a sunshower, my favourite type of weather), but it is rain. It actually rained most of the day.  Not everyone wants to go out in the rain, and sometimes you’ll want to just relax at the hotel. But, even if you are just relaxing at the hotel, you’ll want to know you are relaxing in Brazil, and not feel like you are just in some random Canadian Hotel.

That first night in the hotel, Minha Namorada and I sat in the pool looking up at the sky, and that’s one of the first times I really realized how big Earth is – the stars weren’t in the right spot. João Pessoa is just south of the equator, and while I’ve always known that there are different constellations in the Southern Hemisphere, it is different to see for the first time. While living in a big city with lots of light pollution limits the amount of stars I see, they have always been a constant in my life – but here I was, looking up at the night sky like I’ve done all my life, and yet it was like I was doing so for the first time in my life. I could see some were simply in the wrong place, and yet others were completely new to me, and it really made me realize how big the world really is. Despite how far away the stars are, and despite how many billions of people have lived underneath these exact stars, I’d have never seen this part of the sky from my little corner of Earth. That childhood exhilaration, the first time you see the stars from the countryside, where you realize just how many stars are actually in the sky, that’s what I felt.

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The Crux, or Southern Cross, is only visible from the Southern Celestial Hemisphere  – Till Credner [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

There is an important distinction to be made when staying in a hotel in Brazil. Despite the interuse of the terms in Canada, always look for a hotel, not a motel. Brazil is a very religious country, where children tend to stay at home until they are married. Accordingly, there is a thriving industry for couples that need to find alone time and so they have motels, which rent by the hour.

Natal

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Mário Monte [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Natal, which was founded on December 25, 1599 (and shares the Portuguese name for Christmas), is a city in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, and has a rich history with a large population of expats. The city was one of the first major tourist areas in the state, largely because of its strategic location during World War 2.

Natal, while not the absolute closest, it is still about as close as you can get to Africa from the Americas, while simultaneously being one of the closest points to Europe in Latin America, and so was a staging area for the North African Campaign during World War 2. As is common with places where soldiers train, many of the Allied Troops fell in love with the city and returned after the war to settle. There are clearly lots of expats and foreigners, because I was pleasantly surprised to find, at more than one bar, hockey was on TV, and English was common throughout the city.  Natal still hosts a major training centre for the Brazilian Air Force.

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Centro de Cultura Espacial e Informações Turísticas (CCEIT)

Natal, owing to its location near the equator, also has nearby the Barreira do Inferno Launch Center, which is a rocket launch base of the Brazilian Space Agency.

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Natal, which is near Praia da Pipa, also has some beautiful beaches, although that leads to one unfortunate consequence for tourists – nothing is open during holidays because everyone expects you to be at the beaches during the day. Places open for brief lunches, but when Minha Noiva (my fiancée) and I arrived after a long drive, nothing was open for supper until late. We eventually found a bar that let us have drinks, but we couldn’t find anywhere to eat before 6. while it is a bit annoying when I’m hungry, I do like the calm and laid back attitude that everyone is just expected to “go relax at the beach.”

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The view from a hill overlooking some of the beautiful beaches of Natal
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Praia do Cotovelo, from the patio of Falésia Restaurant

This is not for a lack of customers though, Minha Noiva and I went to a tourist favourite shrimp and risotto restaurant, Camarões, and it was busy minutes after it opened. Brazilians don’t gorge themselves like some Canadians do though, and when I ate far too much risotto (with desert on top!) I did get some long glances from the wait staff. They even tried to suggest it was too much food I was ordering. (Note: I do not recommend eating as much food as I did, but the cheese and shrimp was just too good to stop)

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The Serving size was for four… I may have eaten the entire thing (Minha Noiva helped)